Community may lose golf course to high water
By NICOLE HUTCHESON
Published May 7, 2007
EAST LAKE - Many homeowners near the Tarpon Woods Golf Course love the links but hate the way their neighborhoods flood.
Now, to get rid of the flooding, Pinellas County officials say the course itself might have to go.
County commissioners last week voted to apply for a state grant to help buy the 18-hole golf course.
If purchased, the 150-acre property could become home to large ponds dug to retain stormwater. Or its hills could be flattened to give water a place to flow other than someone's yard or street. No decisions have been made, but the course could be scaled back or eliminated.
"Perhaps it goes to a 9-hole or an executive golf course; that's one option, " assistant county administrator Pete Yauch said last week. "The big unknown is how much land do we need to resolve the flooding issue."
Tarpon Woods resident Mark Hoszko isn't happy about the prospect of losing the course.
Three years ago, he moved from New York to a home with a clear view of the 18th hole.
"The reason I bought the house here was it was a golf course home, " said Hoszko, 46, a computer programmer. "Now my property value is going to go soaring down."
Hoszko, who lives on Tarpon Woods Boulevard, said the most flooding he's had is some puddling in the back.
But in lower-lying areas of Tarpon Woods the flooding is much more severe. Residents in the Toni Woods area often have complained about having to slosh their way to their cars during the rainy season.
Brooker Creek runs through the golf course from north to south. In heavy rain, the creek spills into areas like Toni Woods. That's because development has increasingly filled up the Brooker Creek watershed, which stretches 39 miles from Hillsborough to Pinellas county.
County engineers speculate that the rolling hills of the golf course force water to stay in the creek, from which it is eventually pushed into the surrounding neighborhoods when the creek is full.
"The volume of water is the problem, " said Kim Tracy, division engineer with the county's public works department. "What we're trying to do is provide a place the water can go to, rather than being pushed into the subdivision."
So the county has hired Tampa Bay Engineering to study how the golf course can be used to help the flooding problem. One option is that the golf course surrounding the creek could be flattened and replanted, giving the water somewhere to go.
The contractor is expected to get a plan to the county staff in the next few months, Tracy said. Then there will be a meeting to hear from the public. After that, the commission would have to go before the Southwest Florida Water Management District for permitting.
To help pay for the purchase, the county plans to apply for a Florida Communities Trust Florida Forever grant.
If awarded, the grant would reimburse the county for 40 percent of the purchase price. Given the most current appraisal of $4-million, that means the county would be responsible for $2.4-million of the purchase.
Golf course owners Greg and Rebecca McClimans have expressed a willingness to sell the course, according to the county's grant application. The McClimans did not return calls from the Times last week.
The course, built in the 1970s, has gone through several owners including the Innisbrook golf resort in Palm Harbor.
Over the past few years, the course hasn't been maintained well, said Sam Sabino, 59, whose back yard overlooks the golf course.
"The golf course is nice, but cosmetically they could do more, " said Sabino, who has lived in Tarpon Woods for six years.
Sabino, a veteran, usually golfs at MacDill Air Force Base, but expressed concern about his property value if the course is diminished.
"When people come to Florida, they're looking for the beach or golf, " Sabino said. "So obviously it's going to decrease my value."
Hanging in limbo is exactly what the county will do with the rest of the golf course if only a portion is used for flood mitigation.
"There's been discussion about using some of the land for recreation, " Yauch said. "Could that be a short golf course or driving range? We don't know. It all depend on what space is available."
More certain is the county's institutional reluctance to be in the golf course business.
In 2001, the county assumed ownership of the Airco Golf Course next to St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.
Now, under the management of a company hired by the county, the course sees 50, 000 rounds a year, and its operations are in the black, said Liz Warren, assistant county administrator. But county officials say eventually the aging golf course will close.
There had been discussion about opening a county course at the 250-acre Toytown landfill off Interstate 275, but the county is now considering a private developer's proposal to turn the area into a mixed-use development. The project could also include a golf-course.
"I don't foresee us getting into the golf business, " Warren said.
It will be months before the county gets the finished proposal for the Tarpon Woods golf course.
For now, with rainy season on the way, the county is gearing up for the complaints. Maintenance staff members are on call, and water pumps are ready to be rolled in if need be.
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 727 445-4162.